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Japan’s emperor greets public for first time since succession

Naruhito succeeded Akihito on the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday.

Naruhito was accompanied by Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo (AP)
Naruhito was accompanied by Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo (AP)

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito has greeted the public for the first time since his succession, expressing hopes that Japan will continue to pursue peace.

Naruhito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday, a day after his 85-year-old father, Akihito, abdicated.

From a balcony overlooking the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo, Naruhito thanked tens of thousands of well-wishers for congratulating him.

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Tens of thousands came to greet the new emperor (AP)

“I am deeply grateful and pleased that I am receiving celebration from you all today,” said Naruhito, wearing a formal suit and standing next to his wife, Empress Masako.

“I wish for your health and happiness, and sincerely hope that our country pursues world peace hand in hand with other countries and will develop further.”

As he waved from the balcony, where he was accompanied by other members of his royal family, the spectators cheered, took photos and waved Japanese flags.

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Naruhito and Empress Masako were joined by Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko (AP)

Akihito, who became the emperor emeritus, and his wife Michiko, were not present to avoid concerns about interference with the serving emperor.

Naruhito was scheduled to make balcony appearances several more times through the evening to greet many more people still waiting in long queues outside the palace. An estimated 65,000 people reportedly came to celebrate.

The 59-year-old emperor is a historian who studied at Oxford. He is the first emperor born after the Second World War and one who has studied overseas.

Naruhito, at his May 1 succession ceremony, pledged to emulate his father in seeking peace and staying close to the people.

Akihito took the throne in 1989 and devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in his father’s name while bringing the aloof monarchy closer to the people. His era was the first in Japan’s modern history without war.

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Thousands line the streets at the imperial palace (AP)

The nation celebrated the imperial succession prompted by retirement rather than death amid the lack of discussion about the significance of maintaining the social upper-class bound by its male-only succession rules and other paternalistic traditions.

Naruhito’s wife, Harvard-educated former diplomat Masako, is still recovering from her stress-induced mental conditions that she developed about 15 years ago after facing pressure to produce a male heir soon after giving birth to their daughter Aiko, now 17.

Emperors under Japan’s postwar constitution are given only a symbolic status without political power.

PA

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